so why should we?
By Matthew Taylor
I'm a typical underdog of an Orioles fan. I don't possess the arrogance of Yankees and Red Sox fans. I know better than to expect winning as a baseball birthright. I've seen more losing than winning. I'm too often pessimistic about the O's. And yes, I have an occasional baseball inferiority complex.
Still, I man the trenches for my Birds. I'm loyal in good times and bad. I stand by my team. No one can ever accuse me of being a fairweather fan or, when the good times finally come, of jumping on the bandwagon (ahem, Red Sox "Nation," I'm looking at you ... if you don't talk funny, don't tell me you're a fan).
Somehow I believe there's honor in all this, though it makes me squeemish to associate the word honor with being a fan; it suggests I'm taking it all too seriously.
With all that said, today's game at Camden Yards, which I attended, has pushed me into a new frame of mind. I'm still loyal, but I refuse to be blindly loyal. I'm still an underdog, but I'm dropping the inferiority complex. Frankly, I'm a little pissed off.
It's time for me and other Birds backers like me to stop feeling like we have something to prove as a fan base. There is absolutely no question that Baltimore loves its baseball team. And there's no question that we would drown out the respective fan bases of both A.L. East Evil Empires when they visit Camden Yards if ownership would reignite the flame of our passions by fielding a competitive team.
Give our team a fighting chance, and we fans will have a fighting chance of defending the home turf. Even better, ownership needs to defend the home turf with us, which is the very reason I'm writing this piece. We'll "Take Back the Yard" when ownership does the same.
Baltimore can be a great baseball city again, but it's not up to the fans to make the push at this point. We've been pushing like Sisyphus for too long only to have that baseball boulder roll back down upon us. I refuse to apologize for the fact that Baltimore is not a great baseball town - at least not at the moment - for one simple reason: the fault doesn't belong to the fans no matter how much people want to tell us that it does.
In the late '90s Peter Angelos publicly criticized the locals for ceding the home-field advantage whenever the Yankees came to town. He noted in a Baltimore Sun interview that Yankees fans were sitting in the box seats at Camden Yards, which meant that O's fans were selling them their seats. Peter gave us a collective slap on the wrist for bad baseball behavior.
Fast forward to this season. Earlier this summer Brian Roberts took an only slightly veiled swipe at O's fans by noting how difficult it is to play in a hostile home environment when the team is playing hard and improving.
On these occasions, and many others like them, I've taken a defensive posture. My reasoning has been apologetic at best. I've felt like I have something to prove - to ownership, to the players, to visiting fans.
That thinking led me to purchase a ticket for Sunday's game and, even after the recent run of horrid results, to honor that ticket. My reasoning was simple: "Roberts is right." I was determined to prove something about fan loyalty, as if sticking with the home team through 10 straight losing seasons isn't enough. But after my latest trip to Camden Yards I realize that this organization has something to prove to me, namely that it cares about more than just money.
The first way that the Orioles can prove to die-hard fans that they care about more than money doesn't even involve winning. Rather, it's this: Stop selling Dice-K jerseys inside the stadium. That's right, you could buy a Dice-K, Boston Red Sox T-shirt inside the stadium on Sunday. How far have we fallen?
Some would argue that it's smart marketing to cater to visiting fans while they're in Baltimore. That argument is fine for the street vendors outside the stadium, but things should be decidedly different once you step inside the gates. (And that's not even to mention the whole "Baltimore" on the road jerseys issue, which also reflects a deference to dollars whenever the opportunity presents itself.)
I felt like a fool for buying into the "our fans don't care enough about this team" hype as soon as I saw that No. 18 replica T-shirt hanging in a Camden Yards souvenir stand. The experience got me to thinking about the business side of Baltimore baseball, and the results of that thinking aren't as pretty as I'd prefer.
I'm a baseball romantic at heart, but my anger stripped away the nostalgia long enough for me to realize that I've been played the fool for too long. If the Orioles can sell Red Sox T-shirts at the home stadium because it's what the market demands, I can have some demands of my own.
The biggest of my demands is that the Orioles' organization start having some pride in its product. And make sure that it's local pride while you're at it.